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Alabama is ranked No. 1 in all four major defensive categories.
"Coming into the season, we were always talking about what was going to be our identity," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "Great players left last year, but we had players that could fill their roles. So far, we're getting the job done. It's all about communication because we've got the athletes and we've got the players that can play with anybody in the nation."
LSU isn't too shabby, either. Even with some major losses of their own -- most notably, Heisman finalist Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu -- the Tigers rank among the top 10 in points allowed, yards allowed, pass defense and run defense.
"Both teams pride themselves on defense," Reid said. "Yeah, both teams lost guys to the NFL, and we're very happy for those guys, but when young guys come in, we tell them when they get here, `We expect you to play big. We know you're freshmen, but you can't play like that.' When they get on campus, we work them hard in the summer trying to get them to learn the playbook as soon as possible, then we throw them out there and see what they've got."
While both defenses are stout, Alabama would appear to have a clear edge on offense. That's why the Crimson Tide is a rather surprising nine-point favorite going into a Saturday night in Death Valley, one of the most imposing environments for a road team.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron has been about as close to perfection as one can expect, completing nearly 69 percent of his throws for 1,684 yards and 18 touchdowns -- and not one interception. He has put together a stretch of 262 passes without a pick, the longest in school history.
"You have to have the ability to make plays," Saban said. "We've certainly been able to make a few with our quarterback this year, and I think it's going to be important that we continue to be able to do that as well."
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger hasn't been nearly as effective, raising familiar concerns for a team that has flailed around for several years trying to settle on a starter and didn't reach the end zone in two games against the Crimson Tide a season ago.
Mettenberger, a transfer from Georgia, has completed about 57 percent for 1,419 yards, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Essentially, his role is to make sure he doesn't do anything that gets the Tigers beat.
"Not making mistakes will be huge," he said. "We can't turn it over for sure."
But it's hard to envision the Tigers just running the ball down Alabama's throat, even with an extremely deep stable of backs that has grown even deeper with the emergence of freshman Jeremy Hill, who rushed for more than 100 yards in LSU's last two games.
Mettenberger must step up for his team to have any chance.
"I'm very confident in our ability as an offense to move the ball and get things done," he said. "I hope we can go out there and show everyone our potential. The opportunity will be there for us to make big plays. We have to take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves."
Saban has learned a thing or two from last year's game in Tuscaloosa.
Yes, it's a big game.
Just don't let it affect the way you prepare.
"I think there is such a thing as being too ramped-up for a game," Saban said. "Everyone would say that it is really critical that you play your best in a game like this. The formula and the recipe for that doesn't really change. Even though you would like to change it and put some more sugar in the cake to make it taste better, it usually makes it taste worse."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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